BEIJING • China yesterday recovered the re-entry module of a new- generation carrier rocket from the vast steppes of Inner Mongolia, and marking another milestone in its space programme.
The Long March-7 new-generation carrier rocket blasted off from a new launch site in Hainan province on Saturday. It was also the first time members of the public were allowed to witness a lift-off, Chinese media said.
Eight designated sites for viewing the launch from the Wenchang site, including public parks and a private beach hotel, were packed with tourists and tents, reported the Sunday Morning Post.
On the eve of the launch, hotels in the area were fully booked, with room rates rising more than seven times their normal rate. "It's even crazier than public holidays," one hotel receptionist told the Post.
The medium-sized, two-stage Long March-7 rocket is expected to become the main carrier for China's future space missions, reported Agence France-Presse.
Fuelled by more economical and environmentally friendly liquid oxygen and kerosene, it can carry up to 13.5 tonnes on a low-Earth orbit - a payload 1½ half times greater than those of China's existing rockets. "The more our rockets can lift, the farther we can venture into space," Mr Ma Zhonghui, the rocket's chief designer, told the official Xinhua news agency.
"The successful maiden flight of Long March-7 will greatly lift up China's comprehensive space capacity, and give the country a hefty boost in building itself into a space power," he added.
The rocket's future role will be to deliver supplies to China's planned space station, reported local media. Xinhua, in a commentary yesterday, said Saturday's successful launch brought China one step closer to its goal of operating a permanent space station.
The country launched its first manned space flight in 2003, and has announced plans to operate its own space station by around 2022.
Speaking at a press conference on Saturday, a senior official with the country's manned space programme said China will send its second orbiting space lab into space in mid-September and a manned space mission the following month.
The Shenzhou-11 space craft will carry two astronauts on board and dock with space lab Tiangong-2, said Ms Wu Ping, deputy director of the manned space engineering office. The two astronauts have been chosen and are currently undergoing intensive training, she added.
China plans to launch its largest carrier rocket, the Long March-5, from the same Wenchang launch site later this year, Mr Wang Jingzhong, a senior space programme official, told Xinhua.